There’s been a small flurry of wine writing agitation recently over American Airlines’ decision, for their Flagship Business class customers on international flights, to replace Champagne Ernest Rapeneau Brut NV from France with another sparkling wine, Ferrari Brut Trentodoc from Trentino in the Italian Alps.
Though it might at first seem as though American Airlines is flying in the face of convention for their Business class fliers to sip something other than fine Champagne, it’s arguably more notable that the airline is aligning with an evolution that’s been underway for several years now.
That transition — away from Champagne and toward sparkling wines produced in regions outside of France, including Italy, England and the US — is exemplified most prominently by the announcement earlier this summer that renown Chef de Cave (or winemaker) Cyril Brun was leaving his role at the prestigious house of Charles Heidsieck in his native Champagne. Brun landed in the Trentino region of Italy, in order to occupy the same role of winemaker at sparkling wine specialist producer Ferrari Trento.
It was an eye-catching announcement for several reasons. For one, tenures of Chefs de Cave, particularly at marquee producers like Charles Heidsieck, are often referenced in terms that run for decades. A case in point: Brun succeeds Ruben Larentis at Ferrari, who himself had held the position for 37 years before his recent retirement. Another eye-catching reason is the personality of Ferrari Trento as a brand: located in the far-less-recognized sparkling wine production region of Trentino Ferrari nonetheless makes very public, splashy “bets” on high-profile product placements of their sparkling wines, from the Emmy Awards Governors Ball to Formula 1 racing. In 2021, Ferrari Trento became the first ever non-French sparkling wine on the winning driver’s podium at Formula 1 racing globally.
Ferrari Trento has, in other words, deliberately and strategically positioned their brand in front of highly desirable audiences, effectively leapfrogging over the geographical distinction of sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne. That audience now includes the business class guests of American Airlines.
“Currently, customers traveling in Flagship Business on international flights have the opportunity to enjoy Ferrari Trento Brut Trentodoc, the leading brand for luxury sparkling wine in Italy,” said a spokesperson for American Airlines. “This internationally-acclaimed sparkling wine is known worldwide for its exceptionally high standards demonstrated throughout its production methods and for the strong commitment to sustainability. Ferrari Trento Winery has reached carbon neutrality in 2022 and all estate vineyards are certified organic.”
The question right now isn’t whether Ferrari Brut is “good enough” to be served in Business class. It is, full stop. The more interesting and nuanced questions looking forward include how Cyril Brun will navigate the far more mountainous terroir of Trentino instead of his more familiar Champagne region; how Champagne will stem the commercial tide of favor away from their eponymous wines; and what opportunities American Airlines and others will find to challenge and reset the status quo of choices on their wine lists and elsewhere.